Although the Holocaust Museums Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive acquires film footage from archives all over the world, some of our most important sources of film are individuals who donate their private home movies. These films “ amounting to about 50 hours from 60 different collections “ offer perspectives and subject coverage that is often missing from the official or commercial canon. Home movies convey intimacy and familiarity, and have a special way of connecting people to the past. The staff of the Archive has created a 30 minute compilation showcasing these unique amateur films.
The Holocaust Museum’s home movie collections illustrate the vibrancy and diversity of the prewar Jewish experience across Europe. These amateur films not only depict what the Nazis destroyed, but also reclaim the image of the Jew from the Nazis. In a book recently published by the Holocaust Museum called Jewish Responses to Persecution, historians Juergen Matthaeus and Mark Roseman write that, Contemporary [Jewish sources] can recover the agency and subjectivity of those too often seen merely as the recipients of Nazi policy. They can rescue the diversity and individuality of millions of women, men, and children whom their tormentors tried to treat as the faceless, undifferentiated Jew. “
This reclaiming of identity was an explicit part of our goal in creating this compilation. While the silent films play, one of the creators of the compilation reads details about the lives and fates of those pictured. Our archives are used extensively by filmmakers and exhibition curators, among others, to illustrate the lives of Jews before the war in a broad and often generic sense. While we encourage access to our films for these projects, we see this compilation as an opportunity to reunite the unique stories of individuals with the beautiful images they filmed.